This morning I woke at 5:54AM, realized my alarm hadn’t gone off, leapt out of bed, and somehow got into running gear with shoes on and teeth brushed before my running friend arrived at the door at 6AM. Good grief! It’s been that kind of week, with little margin for error in the schedule. But I suppose it’s also been that kind of week, with things turning out just fine even if the wheels aren’t turning completely smoothly. (And how about that–I need a mere 6 minutes to prep in the morning? I could be sleeping in!)
I’ve been working on my manners while driving. Driving = swearing, in my world. There’s something about being stuck in a vehicle, possibly but not necessarily late, behind other vehicles that are behaving in erratic nonsensical fashion that brings out a rage I rarely experience otherwise. My kids are very helpful, calling out my muttered curses. “Mom, you said the “H” word,” CJ told me yesterday as we sat at a green light behind a car whose driver did not seem to understand the meaning of green lights. Everyone was too politely Canadian to honk, of course. “I’m sorry,” I apologized to CJ. “I’m really trying to work on not saying bad words while driving.”
“I know what you should do,” he piped up, while munching a cookie. “You should meditate in the car.” This cracked everyone up when I reported it later on, no doubt everyone imagining Carrie sitting with eyes closed ignoring the traffic and breathing deeply; but actually, I did take a few deep breaths–eyes open–and it helped. It’s all about weighing what matters, and whether you really want to work yourself into a snit over [fill in the blank]. Usually, the answer is, big picture, I’d rather have a chat with my cookie-eating kid than be gripping the wheel, shoulders tensed, cursing the eccentricities of those who share the road. If only I could recognize that before I start swearing, not during. Connecting the dots between meditation and real life is the real challenge.
Speaking of challenges, yesterday definitely qualifies. Piano lessons, picking up kids from different schools at different times, writing on laptop in car between pickups. Home to eat take-out pizza fetched by Kevin, then up to the little kids’ school for their arts night, visiting with friends and neighbours, ducking out early, dropping little kids at home in care of their older sister who was distracted by her imminently due science fair project (the dining-room table covered in chopsticks, copper wire, batteries, and bouncy balls), and at last, getting changed and zipping over to Conrad Grebel College to read as the final guest in their Mennonite Writers Series. After all that running, what a surprising pleasure it was to come to a stop in the Grebel Chapel. I could not have felt more welcomed. The evening was a total pleasure, and something about the format felt as natural as if I were reading to my kids at bedtime (dressed in nicer clothes, wearing makeup, with a microphone pinned to my shirt). As I sat there at the end of the presentation looking out at this warm and generous audience, I thought, wow, this is a damn lucky life. Embrace it, receive it, savour it.
And then go home to tea and bed in such a happy state of mind that you forget to set the alarm, apparently.
Anyway … I’m reading again tonight at WLU, at Lucinda House, 6:30PM. Then I’ve got a little break in the readings, with more to come in April. I will keep you posted. And I’ll let you know how the car meditation is going …
Kevin and I are constantly fiddling with rules and limits around electronic devices. It’s a subject for a whole separate blog post, and after fighting with the kids all day yesterday about this very topic, I don’t want to rehash it today. Let’s just say, that creative movie-making moment, which I chronicled here yesterday morning, ended at 11AM on the dot, when the kids felt entitled to turn their attention to their glowing screens.
My biggest wish for my kids is that they’re capable of entertaining themselves, setting personal goals, and working on projects — I don’t care whether the projects are practical or just for fun, whether they’re done alone or collectively, I just want my kids to look for ways to entertain themselves rather than be entertained. (Knit! Craft! Run around the block! Jump on the trampoline! Play the recorder! Invite a friend over! Learn how to code! Etc.)
Here’s what I came up with yesterday: a list! (You know how I love lists!) Kevin is encouraging the kids to write down a daily plan with daily goals, large or small, and I’ve devised these questions to frame that planning. Also, I’m using this myself. And it’s a good tool for reflection and conversation, at the end of a day.
Today, what am I going to …
〉 Think about
Who am I going to spend time with?
What am I doing for …
And that’s it! Of course, categories can overlap, and you needn’t necessarily fill in goals for each category every day. Anything you notice missing or would add yourself? Let me know, please.
PS The women at 4Mothers asked me to reflect on my 2014 word of the year, and the blog post is up today. (My word was “success.” And no, I haven’t picked a new word yet. Have you?)
This is my IFOA weekend look. I wore the same outfit both days. One can only do so much with one’s limited “dress-up” clothes.
Yes, another anonymous hotel room. It looks very much like the last.
I arrived yesterday morning on the train, trundled my (borrowed) tiny wheeled suitcase along the sidewalk, through construction, stopping to buy two newspapers (to gorge despite my better judgement on the happenings surrounding ‘he who shall not be named’), returning to the same hotel room I’d been in earlier in the week. Different room. Different view. I can see the island airport from my window. And, more distressing to me for some reason, I can see into the windows of a nearby condo, and have detected humans, who may in turn be seeing me. And so I draw the blinds after dark.
Both the reading and the panel have gone well this weekend. A panel is a tricky event to run, and its success relies heavily on the moderator and on the chemistry of the assembled writers; this afternoon’s was a pure pleasure to participate in: moderated by Brian Francis (of Caker Cooking fame), I got to talk about history, memory, place, and our place in all of this with Michael Winter, Joseph Kertes, and Dionne Brand (whose poetry I studied in university!!).
Now to return to coursework responsibilities, the hunt for supper, and perhaps a drink later on this evening with several siblings who happen to be in town (well, my sister Edna does live here, so that’s not exactly happenstance).
I have quite the to-do list written on a loose sheet of note paper, resting beside my elbow on this anonymous desk. I’ve yet to check anything off completely. Let me share it with you, actually. It’s awfully aspirational.
Kim J essay
LEARN & check UW email
read students’ drafts
prep for class
or write in memoir
pictures for Jammie Day
send babysitting message for AA
(Actually, that last one I did check off. The neighbourhood has been officially informed that my elder daughter, now in grade seven, would like to babysit your children; I can recommend her as creative, energetic, thoughtful, kind, and capable of cooking eggs in any style.)
PS “Start novel.” Yes. Just put it on the list.
Why am I so tired? I asked as I arrived at the top of the stairs at 8:45 this evening, a bit breathless, carrying a full, folded basket of clean laundry. And then my day ran through my mind: supper from scratch (polenta with tomato sauce and goat cheese); baked a batch of bread; made the week’s schedule; three loads of laundry; sheets changed; errands run on foot uptown; 12.5km run; kid to soccer tryout. That’s enough for one day, right?
Am I supposed to be this tired, or am I abnormally tired? Honestly, I can’t tell. The run today was hard, even though I took it easy for the first half. But I struggled toward the end, which has me fearing the Toad next Saturday–twice the length, and a much more challenging course. I didn’t feel like myself.
How can I not be so tired? I ask. And then look at my upcoming schedule and can’t figure out how. That’s all for tonight’s post. I still need to read a bedtime story to my wee ones, one of whom is standing right beside me, clutching his chosen books, and wondering … “When will you read to me?”
How about now?
I’ve been thinking that I need a better answer to the question: How do you fit everything in? I usually laugh and say, I have no freaking idea, or something to that effect. But that’s not quite true. That’s the lazy answer. Because of course I have some idea. I’m doing it, after all. It isn’t just magically happening, it does take thought, care, effort.
Here’s the thing: the real answer is awfully long and detailed, hardly useful in interview situations, when the pithiest answer is best. But this is my blog, and we don’t care about pithy so much here, at least not all the time. So here, I present to you the non-pithy, heavily detailed, low-down from one woman’s organized life. (Note: I’m not suggesting you adopt these measures yourself; I recognize that many would not wish to lead such a strictly organized life. Please take this as descriptive rather than prescriptive.)
1. First of all, as you already know, I don’t procrastinate. Think of it, do it, done. If it can’t be done, make a note in a calendar so that it will be done. This unclutters my brain a great deal.
2. Keeping detailed notes in an online calendar also unclutters my brain, and prevents me from dropping too many balls in one day.
3. If I drop a few balls, I forgive myself. I think that’s key.
4. I lower my standards and relinquish control. The house isn’t very clean. The sheets aren’t regularly changed. The laundry is washed and dried, but may pile up for days unfolded in baskets in the basement. The meals aren’t planned. The kids aren’t terribly well-groomed. The garden is unkempt. And it’s okay. Because the domestic front isn’t exclusively my responsibility anyway — there are six of us in this house. As soon as I recognized this (and it wasn’t easy), I stopped critiquing others’ contributions. I would observe that an absence of critique makes it easier for others to take responsibility and contribute.
5. I’ve gotten good at assessing my own patterns of behaviour. For example, it’s no good to schedule exercise at lunchtime, which other people seem perfectly capable of doing; that will never happen for me. At lunchtime I will be working so intently on something else that I will forget to eat lunch, let alone remember or choose to exercise. So why fight the pattern? Instead, I schedule exercise early, or at times when I won’t be doing anything else, and will be outside somewhere (i.e. kids’ soccer practice).
6. Yeah, I schedule exercise. I schedule friend-time. I schedule writing time. I schedule everything. Some of it is actually jotted on the calendar, and some is just me, in my own head, blocking out time, observing the flow of the day, grabbing the moment and designating it: writing time. Or: interview time. Or: course prep time.
7. If the schedule isn’t working, I reassess on a deep level, or, often, I just go with the immediate flow and change course in the moment. The schedule is there because it works. If it doesn’t work, the problem is the schedule, not me or my family or us. I ditch what’s not working.
8. I don’t let the work that requires deep thought and focus overlap with all the rest of the work that requires deep thought. If I’m writing an essay, I want to be writing an essay and that is all. I try to apply this same principle to all activities. If I’m reading to my kids before bed, I want to be reading to my kids before bed and that is all. If I’m out for coffee with a friend, I want to be out for coffee with a friend and that is all. Heck, if I’m driving across town on errands, I want to turn on the radio and listen or stare out the window and daydream and that is all. You get the pattern.
9. I try to finish what I’ve started, or finish what I’ve decided needs finishing during this block of time. Big projects will not be finished in one go, or even in ten or twenty. But they can be finished in many small chunks of concentrated time. My dad used to have a sign on his office door that read: “If I do just a little bit every day, eventually I can let the task completely overwhelm me.” I remembered that recently, and had to laugh. Because that pretty much sums up my strategy. I do a little bit of many things every day. Thankfully, I don’t feel overwhelmed. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I feel interested, engaged, challenged, and fruitful.
10. Finally, I don’t try to do it all.
I realize it may look like I do. But I don’t. Instead, I try to make what I do count. I’m actually strategically and instinctively an opportunist (not in a bad way, I hope; I mean, I look to recognize and enjoy opportunities that exist, rather than demand the existence of ideal/idealized opportunities).
Sometimes opportunity is about efficiently gleaning multiple benefits from one task. For example, my teaching gig is a) a job, b) interesting and intellectually challenging, c) a chance to free-write during in-class exercises, d) helpful (I hope, for my students’ sakes!), and e) excellent training in public speaking.
Other times, opportunity is about embracing what’s immediately important. For example, this fall is about promoting Girl Runner. It is not about writing a new novel. If I try to make it about writing a new novel, I won’t enjoy going out into the world to share Girl Runner. And that would be a real shame. It would be a shame for two reasons. One, because there’s no way I can write a new novel amidst all this distraction, so I would be unhappily beating my head against an invisible wall. Two, if I were wishing to do something else, I would fail to appreciate what’s happening now.
Life’s short. I have right now. If I’m managing to wreck right now with my own expectations and worries, well, I’m wasting all I’ve got. I believe that.
After a quiet week, I was so looking forward to having everyone home. And they’re back, and all’s well with my world. But I’m glad they got to be away, free and independent and outside in a way that can’t be duplicated at home. I’m too tired just now to reflect more deeply on all that’s happened this summer, but I know the memories that seem to be sticking are located outside. Walking the dogs with the little kids in the evening, running in the early morning light or on shaded trails, sitting in sand beside water, swimming at noon, doing annoying running commentary beside children’s soccer fields (can’t seem to stop myself; sorry, everyone nearby!). I have no idea how to gear up for the fall, for back-to-school, back-to-teaching, travel, soccer tryouts, swim meets, music lessons & practice & homework, other than putting absolutely every little thing on the calendar, and then doing my best to show up.
But I don’t know how to put be still, outside on the calendar. Anyone figured that out?